Meet the groups helping you to cope with the cost of living

Groups across Fakenham and Dereham have vowed to support households as the cost of living continues to affect people

Groups across Fakenham and Dereham have vowed to support households as the cost of living continues to affect households across the region. - Credit: Aaron McMillan/Dan Bennett/CAN

Community groups and charities have vowed to be there for households who are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. 

Across the area, organisations including Community Action Norfolk, First Focus, and Mid-Norfolk Food Bank have all noted a dramatic increase in the number of people calling on them for help. 

That includes providing food parcels, mental health support and general advice on how to cut costs.

First Focus' managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks help those without internet access.

Fakenham's First Focus' managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks - Credit: Aaron McMillan

At First Focus, based in Fakenham, managers Clarissa Belson and Pauline Hicks say the number of families and individuals relying on them for help with food has skyrocketed. 

The charity has a community fridge at its centre on Oak Street, while they also give out food parcels to those in need. 

Each parcel includes items which help recipients to make entire meals, such as pasta and sauce, as well as fresh vegetables donated by allotment owners. 

They also contain toiletries like toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Clarissa Belson with First Focus service users outside their centre on Oak Streek in Fakenham. 

Clarissa Belson, First Focus project manager (bottom right) with First Focus service users outside their centre on Oak Streek in Fakenham. - Credit: First Focus

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In addition to taking contributions from supermarkets, First Focus also relies upon donations from the public. 

And it's not just food, either. The service has also bene offering a fund to help people pay their bills, although this has now expired. 

“We have already seen an increase in people needing support, and I feel the impact of the cost of living crisis hasn't fully been felt yet,” said Mrs Belson.

“You also tend to find financial struggles have an impact on people's mental health and you can feel very alone. So we can offer a safe place to come and be accepted and not feel judged in any way.

First Focus assistant manager, Pauline Hicks.

First Focus assistant manager, Pauline Hicks. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

“We have one-to-one counselling, but sometimes you just need a cuppa, a friendly smile and a chat."

Norfolk's variety of food banks are also in a good position to measure the severity of the crisis. 

Dave Pearson, project manager at Mid Norfolk Foodbank, said the group has seen a 27pc increase in demand between January and April.

Mid Norfolk Foodbank project manager Dave Pearson said it has had a significant increase in demand o

Mid Norfolk Foodbank project manager Dave Pearson said it has had a significant increase in demand over Christmas. Picture: Dan Bennett - Credit: Archant

The food parcels they supply are made up of non-perishable or longer-lasting items such as beans, soup, tinned tomatoes, jam, cereal and long-life milk, as well as tinned fruit, meat and vegetables.

Basic parcels are intended to provide nine meals, although there is enough to last a week. Each is valued at around £15 for a single person or between £40 and £50 for a large family. 

The service also provides toiletries, baby food, nappies, and sanitary products, while a small budget is available to provide fuel vouchers to help with electricity and gas bills.

Mid-Norfolk Foodbank volunteers

Volunteers at the mid-Norfolk Foodbank arrange stock. - Credit: Noah Vickers

“In an ideal world, we would like to see the need for food banks reduce,” added Mr Pearson.

"But, in the real world, this seems far off.

“At the moment we are well placed to cope with the present level of need. However, if demand does increase and the level of donations reduces, we may end up needing to review the level of support we can offer."

Project Manager Dave Pearson with team of volunteers. Picture: Mid-Norfolk foodbank

Project Manager Dave Pearson with team of volunteers. Picture: Mid-Norfolk foodbank - Credit: Archant

Mid Norfolk Foodbank accepts referrals from agencies like Breckland Council and Citizens Advice. Anyone in need of help is advised to contact these organisations in the first instance. 

Community Action Norfolk (CAN), based in Dereham, has been focusing primarily on rising energy bills in its bid to help consumers. 

It has been delivering advice and support to community groups, key workers members of the public. 

In particular, they have been helping households who rely on oil to heat their homes, or fellow groups which offer assistance in the community. 

Moreover, CAN is currently working with the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk to raise awareness of the benefits of buying oil via a collective scheme, ThinkingFuel.

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk 

Rik Martin, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk - Credit: Community Action Norfolk

Rik Martin, chief executive at CAN, said: “There are about 76,000 Norfolk households – and they’re more vulnerable because of higher electricity usage for lighting and cooking.

“Collective buying schemes are the way forward because they’re buying hundreds of thousands of litres of oil at any one time - rather than 500 or 1,000 litres for one individual or household. They can negotiate good discounts for everyone who’s part of it.

“ThinkingFuel bought more than two million litres for Norfolk residents last year. It is Norfolk-based, and the marginal income from it goes towards helping us support community projects and community groups across Norfolk.”